Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology edited by Jeff Yang, Parry Shen, Keith Chow, and Jerry Ma | New Press 2009 | $21.95


In September 2001, The Amazing Spider-Man published issue #477 which has been called, for its emotively blank cover, the “Black Issue.” It opens with a two-page spread of Spider-Man covering his ears in shock over the excruciating collapse of the Twin Towers. What follows is a trauma narrative as New York picks up the pieces, searches for survivors and parents and loved ones. Our pantheon of Marvel Comics gods is down at Ground Zero helping as they can, each one suddenly rendered as miniscule as the citizens: Captain America in silent grief, having seen enough world wars; Doc Doom and Magneto combining their efforts and labor without rancor; Spidey pulling his mask up halfway to drink bottled water with firefighters in the rubble.

I read a blurb once that claimed the three most recognizable characters in the world were: Hamlet, Mickey Mouse, and Superman. The effect of this Marvel shadow history of 9/11, given both the scale of the event as well as these comic book icons, is not unlike that of Ovid using Phaethon’s sun-chariot fiasco to explain desert formations, or Moses using Nimrod’s Tower of Babel to explain foreign languages. Humanity has always written itself into larger, mythical narratives in which we all cohere, in an attempt to familiarize the cosmos. The only difference is that we don’t actually believe Peter Parker and Steve Rogers exist. Yet, reading the Black Issue and getting swept up in its reverent catharsis, I do believe. For that is how literature works. That is how we construct reality in our emotional imaginations. Moreover, that is how we codify our assumptions and stereotypes—what we choose to be believable in these realities we make.

This review of Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology is going to be a geeky review of a geeky book, so some critical bolstering may be called for. Continue reading “Review: SECRET IDENTITIES: THE ASIAN AMERICAN SUPERHERO ANTHOLOGY”